Weekend Wanderings: biking across Central Delhi, Jantar Mantar and Chaayos (January 23 & 24, 2016)
Not exactly weekend: a little about Friday – January 22, 2016
This Friday was the coldest so far. I usually go for a jog early in the morning but needed some extra motivation that day. I put on my running shoes and dragged my ass out of the door and the first thing I noticed about the morning was the unusual dense fog. The fog was all I needed. I got excited at the thought of running in the fog when it was still dark.
It was great. They say one never regrets a workout and running in the nature is all the more amazing. I wanted to take some pictures so headed out with my camera and tripod once I returned. I got some impressive shots. Tried to capture some light trials and then headed to these corporate towers near my place. I wanted to get some cold-deserted shots and luckily there was no one is sight. I took all the pictures I wanted and was heading back when this guy- the guard or something – stopped me and asked what I needed the pictures for. I write, I said. You write with pictures? , he asked.
Isn’t a picture more than a thousand words?, I wanted to ask. But instead I whimpered a yes.
I don’t want to see you here again, do you understand? You can’t take pictures of this place.
Why not? I asked.
No! he shouted without explaining.
And then I got bored of the monotony of our conversation and said, okay and left.
On the hindsight I was terrified and could not stop thinking about him all through the morning.
A weekend, exactly: Saturday – January 23, 2016
Initially I thought I would be leaving early. It was my way of mutiny. I would go to all these places and take pictures of tall buildings in the fog – guard or no guard. But then I thought I had already had a lot to do with cold mornings anyway… so I embraced the coziness of my room instead. I did not step out until 11 in the morning – when it was a little sunny. I went to the library first – did some reading – and then headed out.
I went straight to the Barkakhamba road metro, bicycle docking station – hoping to get the membership form for this bicycling club named planet green bikes. The attendant asked me to come after Republic Day.
I headed to Connaught Place harboring hopes of languishing in the central park, a book in hand (never better than two in the bookshelf) and some song on my lips. But instead I was appalled to find central park closed for Republic day – security reasons I was told. I walked a couple of times around the inner circle – and then I realized I was not actually reaching anywhere. But then did I have anywhere to reach anyway?
All I wanted was a place to sit, a little sunshine and to read. Now when I’m out on weekends I do not look forward to having a traditional meal – I do make sure I start with a hearty breakfast but never lunch – instead I nibble in various indigenous street-side offerings. And by street-side I do not mean food like – paani-puri, ram-laddoo, samose, jalebi, kachodi etc. which tantalize the tongue as much as they debilitate the stomach; but foods like – Aloo-ke-parathe, chole-kulche, chole-bhature, rajma chawal, chole chawal etc. which come closest to fulfilling the primary purpose food was meant to fulfill. And then chai. There’s something about chai and winters. One free advice: if you have chai at a stall always ask the person to pack das-rupae-ki-chai instead of having ek-cup-chai. The chaiwallah would pour you tea in a flimsy poly worth at least two refills. This way you get to have double the tea for half the price. It works all the time.
Once I had my food and my chai – I started looking for a place where I could sit and read. Jantar Mantar! Jantar Mantar besides being the official time-keeper of Dilli is a great place where you can sit and admire three towering offices or work or both. It was just warm enough to sit on the grass. Now I get very excited when it comes to reading – so excited that I often start reading two books together. Some people would call it vanity, impatience, lack-of-focus and whatnot and I do admit it gets difficult to keep pace sometimes but I like it this way – as I always tend to read in a combination of fiction and non-fiction. But now I’m reading two non-fictions together (I finished one as I write this). I read Delirious Delhi: Inside India’s incredible capital by Dave Prager. I read about various health problems Dave and his wife faced when they were staying in Delhi. But Dave is an author you start to like once you read the book. Unlike others Dave has a more open and tolerant attitude towards India. His story has more humor than satire. As a traveler you learn to accept things the way they are. You learn that you can never change an entire country but only change yourself. And only true acceptance can lead one to experience new cultures, places, traditions in the way they were meant to be experienced. I learned that Nehru place was meant to be a shopping complex and not just a computer market.
Dave wrote about this Delhi University organization called Eating-out-in-Delhi which organizes various food meets across Delhi (I’ll be joining soon). I came across a dish called Tandoori Bakra at Karim’s, priced at 4500 INR – well I’ll have to put together a team of about 10 to 12 people to taste this! I left Jantar Mantar at about 18:30 HRS and went straight to my room at laxmi nagar.
Sunday – January 24, 2016
Sunday was kickass. Period.
I left earlier than the day before – which is at about 10.30 HRS. Had poha for breakfast and not to forget – chai. Then I went to Barakhamba Metro bicycle docking station first thing and hired a bike. I think the best way to experience Central Delhi is by a bicycle, especially if it happens to be a winter morning. You can hire a bike with a government approved photo ID. You have to leave your original photo ID with the attendant at the docking station. You’ll get back your ID once you return the bicycle. The hire charge for two hours is 10 Rupees (really?). And then an additional 10 Rupees for each additional hour.
Now a human being is a strange creature when it comes to appreciating simple pleasures of life. We tend to have a thing for all we can be, can have – whatever – instead of what we are or have. In a way the sum of each of our lives is a constant trade-off between who we are and who we can be. As children we love motorbikes more than bicycles. The pure joy of that first ride, the simple purr of the engine, slowly but surely gives way to a loathing for the same sound we come to acknowledge as noise. And the curiosity for its mechanics gives way to a profound hate for the same mechanism we come to acknowledge as complexity. And what joy, under the given circumstance, a simple bike-ride brings!
But let me tell you – Delhi is not a place you’d want to cycle. I was constantly afraid of being hit. People in Delhi love to drive fast and crazy. Period. Do not try to play – roadblock – with them. Safety is a major issue. Once you put such stupid ideas of safety aside, bicycling can actually be fun. The best time to bicycle around Central Delhi is early morning. Central Delhi has a more laid-back approach to a weekend life. Shops in the Connaught circle do not open until mid-day, leaving you ample time to bicycle-explore-the-shit-out-of-the-place. With energy left you can go around the nearby places. I actually happened to be pretty excited that day and went as far as Ugrasen-ki-baoli and Gol market which are opposite and quite far from each other. And I did stop for two cups of chai (in case you were wondering). I clicked some pictures (a few while riding – don’t tell mom). I also made some videos. I rode for two hours – non-stop and promised myself I would begin early the next weekend. When the time came – I did not feel like parting with the bicycle. Materialism. Anyway, I did have to give it back because I thought getting the ID back was more important. You can chose the bicycle. It’s a personal choice.
Once I returned the bicycle I felt the sort of emptiness you feel when a woman breaks-up with you. And then you try to fill up your life with one thing or another. I did the same. I was wandering around inner Connaught circle when a guy tapped my shoulder. Now this guy was beaming with happiness for some reason I could not fathom. I mean – here I was bereft after a profound loss – and he did not have even the slightest sensibility to just let me be. The next thing I know – he shoves a card right against me. Wait a minute young man! Where do you think you’re going with that? I think.
New restaurant sir! Chaayos. This card you get 50% discount. Only for first 500 customers, he squeaked.
Now usually I do not take such nonsense but I was too sad to resist. He shoved the card in my hand and pulled me closer to himself, once I was by his side his aide took a picture of me in a flash. Thank you sir!
Really? Wow. What was that for?
Bedazzled, I walked ahead. Trying to understand all that had transpired. Did he really say 500? Or was it 100? 50%? Really? What if they priced their stuff at about 1000 bucks. I would never pay 500 for chai. Never.
I cross their restaurant entrance – with balloons and all – and a stream of hip youngsters entering this land of milk and honey. What do I do? I check my wallet and find 300 Rupees. I can try. If the prices are too high, I can always pretend I’ve lost my wallet and walk out cursing under my breath.
I walk the flight of stairs and as I enter – a young man with a baseball cap says – welcome to chaayos sir.
The first thig I notice is the ubiquitous – yellow-painted bicycle wheels on the ceiling. That’s cool! Wait, this place looks expensive. I walk over to the counter to study the menu. As nonchalantly as possible. And I was surprised to find that the prices were pretty affordable. Cheap, in fact. I went over the menu – ghar-ki-chai, Sulemani chai, Irani chai, pahaadi chai, Gods chai…
Chaayos is a combination of chai and Chaos. These guys basically experiment with tea. They also serve non-tea stuff but I wasn’t interested. I walked over to the man at the counter and asked, what’s the most bizarre tea?
He did not understand and offered the highest-selling tea instead.
Arrey nai! Sabse ajeeb chai kaun si hai?
Ajeeb? Are sar you want to experiment?
You should try our Hari-mirch-ki-chai!
I gave the card I had been forced to accept just downstairs and lo – I ask kitne ho gae bhaiya? And the man says- iss card ke saath free hai (it’s free with this card). I offer silent gratitude to these kids who forced me to take the card and take the corner seat. I take a couple of photos and ask a stranger to take mine. He requests me to take photos of his group and send them over on gmail (those smart-ass Delhi teens). I take photos and note down their email IDs. When you promise to send pictures to someone, make sure you do. Always. I sent the pictures in the evening when I returned.
Nawal-ki-chai the waiter shouted.
I accepted the tea gleefully and walked over to my little corner. I closed my eyes and took the first sip and was overwhelmed by the stream of strong flavors. Green-chilies with milk, sugar and tea! A weird combination? But the tea was delicious – and so warm – perfect for winter. Always better when free. I lingered a little longer than necessary – thanked the waiters, took some more pictures and left. I went to Jantar Mantar – did a little reading and left for my room.
Weekend in pictures
That is all for this week!